'Dead Man Walking' nun donates personal collection to DePaul

February 9, 2011

Emily Wilensky

(WBEZ/Emily Wilensky)
Sister Helen Prejean shows DePaul's President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider her collection.

A leading social justice activist is making Chicago the new home for her personal collections. Sister Helen Prejean is best known for her work with death row inmates detailed in the book and movie “Dead Man Walking.” Prejean's donation to DePaul University comes as Governor Pat Quinn is considering a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Prejean says she hopes the governor signs the bill.

“It's an important decision that he's doing, he's not lightly going to do it,” she said. “I just expect he is going to put his seal of approval on it. I don't think he is going to counter it.”
 
Quinn has until March 18th to act on the legislation. There has been a moratorium on executions in Illinois since 2000 when former Governor George Ryan called for a review of the death penalty.
 
At a press conference Wednesday, Prejean said DePaul’s commitment to social justice was what convinced her to donate her collection there. She said DePaul’s Center for Justice in Capital Cases’ leading Professor, Andrea Lyon, helped Governor Ryan draw attention to the death penalty. She acknowledged the role Ryan played in making current death penalty abolition legislation possible in Illinois.
 
“He stood up in front of the nation and he commuted those sentences,” she said. “It was so against what politicians would say was a wise thing to do.”
 
Prejean's 50 boxes of papers, spanning 30 years of work, will be used to teach law students starting this fall. The boxes contain letters to governors, correspondence with prisoners, speeches, and memorabilia from the set of “Dead Man Walking.” The archives will be open to the public sometime next year.